Cardinal tells world leaders 'great deal is at stake' in climate talks

By James Martone

PARIS (CNS) — A senior Vatican
official urged a roomful of world leaders “to take action” and work
in a spirit of solidarity to come up with an accord to combat global warming
before it is too late.

“A great deal is at stake
for every country. Progress has too long been based on fossil energy, to the
detriment of the environment. This is the moment to take action,” Cardinal
Peter Turkson told a high-level segment of the U.N. climate change conference taking
place on the outskirts of Paris.

“As many scientists and
economists are warning, the longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to
rectify environmental conditions — and the more damage and suffering the delay
will cause,” Cardinal Turkson told the various heads of state and government
assembled Dec. 8.

Cardinal Turkson, president of
the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said that while no one had the
right to deprive future generations of the chance to live on earth, “this,
unfortunately, is a horrible and ever more likely possibility.”

“Instead of being careful
about this common home of ours, we have been careless. Damage flows from
selfish, short-sighted economic and political choices. As a result, the cries
of the poor and the desperate now join the groaning of the earth. Those whose
homes and livelihood are washed away by rising seas, or turned to dust by
drought, where will they go?” he asked.

The high-level segment took
place on the sidelines of major negotiations underway among 195 countries, who
aim to produce a global climate accord that would curb global warming by
limiting the use of fossil fuels and the dangerous carbon gases they emit.

The U.N. conference began Nov. 30
and ends Dec. 11. Activists in favor of a climate accord that limits fossil
fuels but safeguards the poor have reported major obstacles in the way of any
agreement, including over issues of compensating poor countries most impacted
by climate change, and the issue of human rights.

“As Pope Francis told world
leaders assembled at the United Nations” Sept. 25, “man is not
authorized to abuse the environment, much less to destroy it,” Cardinal
Turkson reminded his audience.

“When the environment is
assaulted, the poor, least able to defend themselves, suffer most. We cannot
remain blind to the grave damage done to the planet, nor can we remain
indifferent to the plight of the millions of people who most bear the burden of
such destruction. While no one has the right to condemn people to hopelessness
and misery, this all too frequently occurs through destructive actions or
culpable indifference,” he said.

Cardinal Turkson cited Pope
Francis’ June 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common
Home,” which criticizes consumerism and the toll it and irresponsible
development have taken on the environment and the poor. The letter calls for a
change of heart to protect the earth and all its inhabitants.

“Everything is
interconnected, and … genuine care for our own lives and our relationships
with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others,”
Cardinal Turkson quoted, listing various challenges he said remained in the
face of a just climate agreement, including the integration of the wide range
of perceptions the different countries involved in the Paris negotiations had
regarding finance, technology, capacity building and environmental science.

“So our scientific and
diplomatic task is immense. Please let us not lose ourselves in protecting current
narrow interests,” he appealed to his audience.

He thanked everyone who had so
far spoken out, prayed and pushed for climate justice, in particular the tens
of thousands of people across the world he said had joined in climate-change
marches and rallies.

“For we all can and indeed
must do much better, transforming ourselves by way of an ecological conversion,”
he said.

“What must unite everyone
is a shared ethical framing of the common good and solidarity,” he said. “Such
virtues are indispensable for any transformation, for any effective commitment
to change. It may be that a lack of ethical guidelines and motivation makes the
current negotiations more difficult.”

The cardinal suggested that
nations that have contributed most to greenhouse gas emissions and benefitted
most from the industrial period should “now take the lead and contribute
more to the solution than those whose standard of living is just beginning to

“May we be guided by a
shared vision and fortified by determination and courage in order to secure a
fair, legally binding and truly transformational agreement,” he said.

Noting that experts had advised
that investments in clean energy globally should equal about $2 trillion a year
between now and 2030 — roughly the same as annual military spending worldwide
— the cardinal surmised that “clearly, the issue is not so much ‘Can the
economy afford it?’ as ‘What are our priorities?'”

He said what he called “a
spirit of genuine and constructive” dialogue was essential at the Paris
talks in order to come up with a just climate agreement.

Dialogue, he said, “is the
way to be transformative: to rediscover our human dignity and start afresh as
brothers and sisters. Through the strengthening of dialogue, we will also
discover how to prevent conflict and build peace, and we all know how much
climate change can affect peace.”

Cardinal Turkson recounted how Pope
Francis had urged “for the sake of the common home, of all us and of
future generations, in Paris every effort should be aimed at reducing the
impact of climate change and, at the same time, at combating poverty and promoting
human dignity. The two choices go together: stopping climate change and
combating poverty for the flourishing of human dignity.”

“We are called to be
courageous in taking such important decisions,” Cardinal Turkson
concluded, “maintaining as a basic criterion for our choices the greater
good of the entire human family.”

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